Magistrates Should Enforce the Whole Decalogue?

Mencken recognized the fallacy of enforcing morality but not theology (“thou shalt have no other gods before me”):

It is moral tyranny that now afflicts These States, and the worst of the matter is that thousands of Americans seem disposed to submit to it without protest.. If theological tyranny were revived tomorrow, they would loose a bellow loud enough to shake the earth, but in the face of moral tyranny they remain silent and sit still. Thus it is that militant moralists, moved by that will to power which is universal in man, have proceeded from excess to excess, until now an almost endless roll of wholly harmless acts is under the ban of the law.

It is unlawful in Baltimore for a citizen to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony on the Sabbath. It is unlawful for him to buy a cigar. It is unlawful for him to have his hair cut. It is unlawful for him, on a summer Sunday, to recreate himself by playing baseball. In various large areas of his city he is forbidden to buy a bottle of wine, even on a week-day. Many plays that he may want to see, indubitable works of art, are barred from the theatres he patronizes. He is forbidden to possess certain great and valuable books, or to send them to his friends by mail. The law decides what games of chance he shall play and what games of chance he shall not play, and the division is purely arbitrary and nonsensical.

What is more, this invasion of his common rights is still going on. Here in Baltimore there are half a dozen organizations devoted exclusively to the concoction and prohibition of new and wholly artificial crimes. And in Washington the Congress of the United States is preparing to pass a law making it a crime for a man to have a bottle of beer in his possession–not to sell it or give it away, remember, but merely to have it.

What is the theory at the bottom of all this oppressive and intolerable legislation? Simply the theory that no man shall do, even in his own house, anything which the majority of his fellow-citizens do not care to do in their houses. His act need not be vicious in itself; it need not be dangerous; it need not be disturbing to his neighbors. All it need be is abhorrent to the opinion of those neighbors, or, to be more exact, to the opinion of 51 per cent. of them. This is the theory at the bottom of moral snouting and moral legislation, and this was also the theory at the bottom of the hanging of Jews and Quakers, the Massacre of St. Bartholomew and the Inquisition in Spain.

No sane man, I take it, objects to laws necessary to the public security, even when they limit his own liberties. I have never heard anyone defend burglary, or arson, or rape. I doubt that any such defense has ever been made in Christendom. But is it necessary to the public security that boys who work hard all week be forbidden to take reasonable recreation on Sunday? Is it necessary to the public security that a sane man, fully competent to take care of himself, be forbidden to drink a bottle of beer? Is it necessary to the public security that a good citizen be forbidden to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony one day out of every seven, or that he be forbidden to read the books he wants to read, or to see the plays be wants to see?

I think not. On the contrary, it seems to me that such prohibitions are wholly intolerable and indecent. It seems to me that any person who essays to enforce them upon free citizens is a far more dangerous criminal than that poor wretch who essays to pick their pockets. The pickpocket steals only a watch, and a man without a watch is still a man. But the militant moralist tries to steal liberty and self-respect, and the man who has lost both is a man who has lost everything that separates a civilized freeman from a convict in a chain-gang.

So again the question: why do Christians expect non-Christians to behave like Christians?

What Do P. J. O'Rourke and the Bible Have In Common?

Ecclesiastes. All is vanity. Thanks to Carl Trueman, I read a funny and effective take down of the secular fundamentalists who think tobacco smoke is more dangerous that carbon emissions. (No doubt, ironies of this sort attend most projects of transformation.)

The first folly, the logic that says scary pictures will scare adolescents from smoking:

Nonetheless this is a brilliant marketing campaign by the Australian authorities, doubtless designed to increase tax revenue from cigarette sales to junior high school boys. If I were in junior high I’d promptly find a way to buy (bribing an older brother or cousin, if need be) this incredibly disgusting flip-top box. And then I would be beside myself with eagerness to get to school the next day and usher my pals into the boys’ room to show off my gruesome, shoeless, sockless purchase.

In the World Gross-Out Champ-ionship, which is the preeminent event and main purpose of seventh grade, I’d retire the cup. At recess we’d show the pack to the girls, eliciting the highly coveted “ICK!” shriek. After school a certain kind of girl, the kind who made our hearts flutter (which Australia warns that cigarettes also do), would ask, “Can I try one?”

Of course we’d smoke the things. Who could resist? I can’t resist myself. As a confirmed cigar-smoker, I don’t care much for cigarettes. But the 13-year-old abides in us all. And it’s an affair of honor. I am devoted to Lady Nicotine. She has been insulted.

Folly no. 2, taxing sin depletes tax revenues:

Sales of legally packaged and lawfully retailed Australian cigarettes are down. No surprise given that most smoking is not done in seventh-grade boys’ rooms and that a pack of cigarettes in Australia costs nearly $16. (The Australian dollar is worth approximately the same as the U.S. dollar except it has a kangaroo on it instead of George Washington.)

But this decline in sales has been offset by a 154 percent increase in sales of contraband and counterfeit cigarettes coming from overseas. These cost half as much and arrive in the pleasant traditional wrappings of their brand. (Though, in the case of counterfeit cigarettes, with some risk of misspelling​—​Malrbolo.)

In calculating the 154 percent figure KPMG seems to have done its homework​—​surveying thousands of adult Australian smokers, analyzing Australian Customs tobacco seizure data, and sending out teams to pick up the litter of 12,000 empty cigarette packs in 16 Australian cities and towns.

Not to rei-mpute base motives to the Australian government, but plain packaging has been a revenue disappointment as well. KPMG estimates that, as of mid-2013, contraband and counterfeit cigarettes have cost Australia a billion dollars in lost taxes.

Do you suppose there’s organized criminal activity involved? Consider that a pack of smokes costs a buck and a quarter in Vietnam. This makes the mark-up for smuggled heroin look like the profit margin on a Walmart Black Friday loss leader.

The third folly, where will it all end?

Beer is certainly next, with pictures of drunken fistfights, snoring bums, and huge, gin-blossomed noses on every can. Airplane crashes kill a lot of people. No plane should be allowed to land in Australia unless it’s painted drab dark brown and bears an image of fiery carnage along its fuselage. Cars kill even more. Perhaps a banner showing lethal wrecks could be pasted across the inside of every car’s windshield. And there’s food. Make all food drab dark brown (something of a historical tradition in Australian cooking anyway) and deck the labels with naked fat men.

Fortunately there are those who are still willing to fight for property rights and freedom of choice. Raúl Castro, for one. Cuba has gone to the World Trade Organization to challenge Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act. Cuba argues that the act violates the internationally recognized rights of trademark owners and does not comply with the WTO’s agreements banning technical barriers to trade and protecting intellectual property.

When Raúl Castro is your Milton Friedman, you’re ready for the intellectual firing squad. The thought process of Australia’s legislators should be stood up against the wall of common sense. Care for a last cigarette?

Taking Every Square (Liquid) Ounce Captive

In honor of the series running over at TGC on pastries, Old Calvinists may be in the mood for a post that has less to do with flour and more with peat. The following is also a confirmation of a point made one student this morning during discussion of Progressivism and Prohibition. I had not heard this before, but legend has it that Laphroiag was on sale throughout the 1920s because no one believed anyone who was not sick would drink it:

This Scotch whisky carries an interesting story with it. During Prohibition in the United States, Laphroaig was still allowed to import their whisky at its cask strength as cough medicine because the United States government deemed the whisky too strong and medicinal to be consumed recreationally.

Here is how one Scotch-drinker describes Laphroiag:

This to me is the most immediately identifiable nose in the realm of Scotch whisky—beast-like, phenolic, wheelbarrels of iodine, sea salt, nonstop peat and kippers—and as if the medicinal tidal waves aren’t enough, beneath them lies a thin layer of fino sherry—is this loutish nose too much? why am I reaching for a rifle?—on palate, the peat reek is so thick I have to scrape it off my tongue with a spatula; the three-alarm smokiness leaves scant room for anything else—I wonder if there is anything else in terms of flavor—maybe it’s just peat, smoke, peat, smoke; I appreciate the damn-the-torpedoes character of this burly brat, but if I were stranded on that proverbial island with only one single malt, Laphroaig 10 most definitely would not be my choice; make sure you have a whip and a chair handy after you open this beastie; my biggest objection to this malt is, what does a newcomer to malts think if they happen to try this five-alarm malt before tasting other, tamer, more elegant malts? Do you lose that person forever?

For (all about) me, the older I get, the more peat, hops, pepper, garlic, Honduran leaf, the more I enjoy. Is this a sign that tastebuds are wearing out?

Culture Wars Then and Now

In my course on Christianity and Politics in the U.S., I assigned Thomas R. Pegram’s Battling Demon Rum: The Struggle for a Dry America, 1800-1933 (published by Ivan R. Dee, who remains one of the genuine mensches in American publishing). I continue to be struck, not only by how good the book is, but also by how little the dynamics between Democrats and Republicans have changed. Yes, the contested issues have — abortion and marriage instead of alcohol and women’s suffrage. But Republicans are still the moralists and the Democrats are the libertarians. For instance:

. . . controversies over temperance laws tended to strengthen Democrats and hurt Republicans. Although many Democrats practices personal temperance and even supported some regulation of the liquor industry, the party as a whole expressed its commitment to “personal liberty” in the matter of drinking. “Why do you allow the dyspeptic Boston to tell you want to drink, and when and how you must behave on Sunday?” asked a New York Democratic congressman in 1867. Prohibition not only endangered the preferences and customs of drinkers, including Protestant Germans who normally voted Republican, it also provoked among Democrats the old Jacksonian fear of arbitrary power. The 1870 platform of the Indiana Democratic party denounced Republican intentions [are you listening David and Tim Bayly] “to regulate the moral ideas, appetites, or innocent amusements of the people by legislation.” By challenging anti-liquor laws, Democrats in the mid-1870s won elections in Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. In the highly competitive politics of the Third Party system, issues that energized voters in one party and alienated small groups in the opposition party enough to keep them from voting or even cause them to “scratch” their ballots and cross party lines, were often decisive in elections. Alcohol regulation became such an issue in the decade following the Civil War.

Two Kingdom Tuesday: Machen Was All Wet

The resolution endorsing the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act was introduced to the Presbytery of New Brunswick at the very end of the meting on April 13, 1926. The attendance, which had been large during the early part of the session, had dwindled until only a very few persons were present – y estimate would be ten or twelve, exclusive of the officers, though I believe someone else estimates the number at about five. Under these conditions, the resolution was put to a viva voce vote. I voted “No”; but I did not speak to the motion or in any way ask that my vote should be recorded. . . .

It is a misrepresentation to say that by this vote I expressed any opinion on the merits of the Eighteenth Amendment or the Volstead Act – and still less on the general question of Prohibition. On the contrary, my vote was directed against a policy which places the church in its corporate capacity, as distinguished from the activities of its members, on record with regard to such political questions. And I also thought it improper for so small a group of men as were then in attendance to attempt to express the attitude of a court of the church with regard to such an important question. . . .

Such are the facts about my vote. I desire now to say one or two things about my attitude regarding the issues involved.

In the first place, no one has a greater horror of the evils of drunkenness than I or a greater detestation of any corrupt traffic which has sought to make profit out of this terrible sin. It is clearly the duty of the church to combat this evil

With regard to the exact form, however, in which the power of civil government is to be used in this battle, there may be different of opinion. Zeal for temperance, for example, would hardly justify an order that all drunkards should be summarily butchered. The end in that case would not justify the means. Some men hold that the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act are not a wise method of dealing with the problem of intemperance, and that indeed those measures, in the effort to accomplish moral good, are really causing moral harm. I am not expressing any opinion on this question now, and did not do so by my vote in the Presbytery of New Brunswick. But I do maintain that those who hold the view that I have just mentioned have a perfect right to their opinion, so far as the law of our church is concerned, and should not be coerced in any way by ecclesiastical authority. The church has a right to exercise discipline where authority for condemnation of an act can be found in Scripture, but it has no such right in other cases. And certainly Scripture authority cannot be found in the particular matter of the Eighteenth Amendment and the Volstead Act.

Moreover, the church, I hold, ought to refrain from entering, in its corporate capacity, into the political field. Chapter XXXI, Article iv, of the Confession of Faith reads as follows:

Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth, unless by way of humble petition in cases extraordinary; or, by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they be thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

This section, I think, established a very great principle which was violated by the Presbyter of New Brunswick. . . .

In making of itself, moreover, in so many instances primarily an agency of law enforcement, and thus engaging in the duties of the police, the church, I am constrained to think, is in danger of losing sight of its proper function, which is that of bringing to bear upon human soul the sweet and gracious influences of the gospel. Important indeed are the function of the police, and members of the church, in their capacity as citizens, should aid by every proper means within their power in securing the discharge of those functions. But the duty of the church in its corporate capacity is of quite a different nature. (J. Gresham Machen, “Statement on the Eighteenth Amendment”)